Airplane car. The combination of driving and flying could revolutionize the traffic of the future. So far, however, the trials have mostly failed due to safety or approval by the authorities. The Dutch company PAL-V is convinced that it has these problems under control - and dares to enter the market with a genuine airplane car.
"Let it be said to you: a combination of plane and car is coming. You can smile, but she's coming." Allegedly Henry Ford claimed this in 1940.
And indeed, the flying car came. And came. And came.
With the ConvAirCar by Henry Dreyfuss the first test flight in 1947 was also the last one. A few years later, Leland Bryan has an accident in his car tarpaulin. Also the combination of a Ford Pinto with a Cessna Skymaster got inventor and test pilots 1973 badly: They crashed fatally. And the Moller M400 Skycar has been in the development phase for over 40 years.
In pop culture alone, cars really took off. Whether in "Fantomas", "Back to the Future" or "The Man with the Golden Colt" - the dream of driving and flying has so far only become reality on the cinema screen.
Now that's changed. In the Netherlands, an entrepreneur says: "I have the solution for the flying car. It is called PAL-V (Personal Air and Land Vehicle) and will soon have road approval."
Robert Dingemanse, founder and CEO of PAL-V, was previously General Manager of Philips. Since 2006 he has been working on making cars take off. "The first vehicles will be delivered next year." Its PAL-V looks like a sleek small sports car with a roof structure, four metres long, two metres wide and 1.7 metres high. In the curves he lies down with his three wheels more like a motorcycle, the two passengers sit one behind the other. Driving the car with its 100-horsepower engine, it makes it from zero to one hundred in nine seconds, consumption is 7.6 liters per 100 kilometers, top speed 160 km/h.
There is no question that the PAL-V can drive. And Dingemanse has also proven that it can fly, because the PAL-V has already taken off several times. According to the manufacturer, his company is also legal. In Europe, it is classified as a small rotorcraft (CS-27) by the authorities in the air, and EU approval according to L5E is sought for the road.
At first glance, the vehicle could be considered to be a small helicopter flying. At 664 kilos, the PAL-V weighs just over half the weight of a VW Golf. Carbon, aluminium and titanium save weight.
When lifting off, he may then weigh a maximum of 910 kilograms. That will make it a bit tight, though. Assuming that 100 litres of commercially available super petrol are carried, which is available at every petrol station, only 146 kilos remain for the two passengers and their luggage.
Unfolded into a plane, the PAL-V then looks different: The rotor blades have a span of almost eleven metres, the length is now 6.1 metres and the height 3.2 metres. In the air the consumption is 26 litres per hour, speeds from 160 to 180 km/h are possible. But hobby pilots can also enjoy the landscape at 50 km/h. The range in flight mode is between 400 and 500 kilometres.
So it is actually a car that flies - and above all: a car that is probably allowed to fly. Futuristic fantasies sometimes fail not only because of the technique, but also because of the complex control system, starting with the crash test.
Can Dingemanse do something that others can't? "We rely on safe solutions that have already proven themselves in practice," says Dingemanse. Existing and proven machines and concepts are used anew. The two engines for the flight, for example, come from Rotax, the Austrian specialist for the development and production of innovative drive systems in the power sports sector. The Austrians have experience in equipping snowmobiles, light aircraft and karts. The use of its components makes the PAL-V reliable and saves development costs.
The entrepreneur does not orientate himself on dreams, wishes and cool design studies, but on hard reality. "As a designer, the first question for me is: What do we want to build?"
Robert Dingemanse calmly tells how someone who is particularly sure of his business is: "Our vehicle should initially lie stable on the road. It'll take three wheels. Then it should be able to take off. We could have tried to equip the vehicle with a propeller and wings at the front. Then it would need a long runway and a lot of thrust. This thrust causes high fuel consumption, and the runway is not everywhere."
An alternative, he continues, was also some kind of helicopter. "Anyone who's ever climbed into one knows the flight is quite bumpy. At the moment, the automotive industry is also talking a lot about electric drives. We also discussed this, but finally came to the conclusion that battery technology is not far enough yet. In the end, we chose a gyrocopter."
Such a gyrocopter or gyrocopter looks almost like a helicopter to the layman. Its rotor, however, is turned purely passively by the airstream, it does not need a mechanical drive. With the rotor axis inclined backwards, it lifts off automatically. The tail rotor then provides the forward thrust.
Also the gyrocopter is known from several movies, for example "Mad Max 2" or the James Bond movie "Man lebt nur zweimal", in which Bond uses the "Little Nellie", which is driven in such a way, to switch off rows of deep black helicopters armed to the teeth. Experts identified the vehicle of Her Majesty's agent as Wallis WA-116 Agile, finally the construction of the former Royal Air Force Wing Commander Ken Wallis also took off outside the film.
While gyrocopters are not the fastest vehicles in the air, they do have considerable advantages. "Who would like to use a PAL-V, needs beside the driving licence naturally a flight ticket. However, the required document for the gyrocopter is comparatively easy to obtain. For him the prospective customer only needs about twice as many flying hours as in the past in the driving school. In addition, the cost per flight hour is low. By the way, we teach our customers in our own centers." One is in the Netherlands, the other is in Roosevelt, Utah, about two hours from Salt Lake City.
So is the dream of flying really becoming reality now? Can we extend the rotors at the first sign of a traffic jam in the future to rise above the waiting vehicles? Dingemanse laughs: "The law forbids that. Our gyrocopter is only allowed to take off and land at special places, such as a heliport." For such a PAL-V to take off, a landing strip of 90 to 200 metres in length and 20 metres in width is required. However, he does not see this as a major problem: "We regularly find airfields from which we could take off. Some were intended for hobby pilots, others are close to luxury hotels."
When it comes to the mobility of the future, the entrepreneur has in mind a kind of mobility system of his own, which he calls a "point-to-point solution".
Using common techniques, a navigation device can control the route and send the driver to the next place where he can take off in heavy traffic jams. "Even so, traffic jams can be overflown." To do this, however, the navigation system must learn to "think" three-dimensionally: When is it better to stay on the road? When should the vehicle be in the air?
And what happens if there's a breakdown? "Anyone who gets into a flying car naturally wants to come down," says Dingemanse and takes an art break: "I mean, of course: safely come down. It is not enough to simply put a parachute in the vehicle. It helps the pilots anyway only from a certain height. And then what about his aircraft?"
The founder therefore invested a lot of time and effort to exclude a disaster scenario as far as possible. "With the gyrocopter, there can be no stall because the speed is too low. He is good-natured and can hardly be shaken even by turbulence. As the rotor has no drive, this drive naturally can not fail.
And as far as the tail rotor is concerned: A PAL-V is owned by two aircraft engines. If a problem should actually occur, the pilot still has 50 percent of the power. If an emergency landing is necessary, a very small area such as a tennis court is sufficient." Further advantages: Where no drive is required, there is no need for a gearbox. The wear is correspondingly lower, as are the maintenance and servicing costs. "And for the PAL-V, you don't need a hangar. You can park it in the garage."
The first PAL-Vs are to be delivered as early as 2018. "The company was founded in 2006, but I've actually been working on the concept since 1999," explains Dingemanse. "First, we invested our own money. Over time, we gained 35 investors. A total of 35 million is in the PAL-V."
Of course, the vehicle should be able to generate this again: The "first edition" PAL-V Liberty Pioneer Edition will cost 499000 Euro. Those who do not belong to the pioneers will later pay 299000 Euro for the PAL-V Liberty Sport.
But is the PAL-V really being bought for disdainful everyday mobility, as a vehicle for the luxury commuter of tomorrow? Even Dingemanse is realistic. "Our prospective customers have the necessary financial means, they are technically affine and early adopter - they are gladly the first ones, if there is something new. About 80 percent of them, by the way, are entrepreneurs. Maybe they're more risky?"
There are also completely different interested parties, the entrepreneur continues. Finally, the PAL-V is also suitable for applications in the military sector or for border security. A self-flying version is also worth considering. "There's still a long way to go. Ten to 20 years."
In the meantime some competitors will appear: The American company Terrafugia wants to establish the "transition" on the market. It looks like a small plane for two people. However, the company prefers to talk about the sleek TF-X model, which is set to conquer the market sometime in the next decade. The "Transition", on the other hand, looks like a small aircraft with fold-out wings.
The Bavarian start-up Lilium sends a passenger cell into the air as a vertical take-off aircraft and promises a flight from London to Paris in one hour in 2025.
The Aeromobile 3.0 from Slovakia also looks as if it had escaped an action film. But in May 2015 there was a setback when pilot and designer Stefan Klein had to release the parachute during a test flight at Nitra Airport. He was injured, his six-metre wingspan flying car crashed.
Robert Dingemanse is currently observing all these experiments closely. They don't scare him. For the Dutchman it has long been clear: "We will be the first on the market!"
Now that it looks as if the flying car will soon be taking off in a wide variety of variants, the visionaries of the industry have a new goal: to revolutionize the traffic of the future with a combination of autonomous vehicles and aircraft. Google founder Larry Page, for example, has already had a kind of drone constructed for flights over lakes. And the transport service promises an autonomous, battery-operated transport system for the air. "Uber Elevate" is scheduled for launch in 2020. Also Airbus doesn't want to stand back and has published a cheerful video. There, a passenger cell first slides along on an electrically powered chassis before being "picked" by a quadcopter drone and set down precisely on a skyscraper (pictures above and right). Despite the carefully polished futurism, the vehicle looks as if every user needs a great deal of confidence in the company and its technology. The Chinese company Ehang, on the other hand, wants to replace the car completely: Ehang 182 is the name of a kind of city hopper drone that can carry a passenger weighing up to 100 kilos along with a briefcase. According to the company, this drone has been tested by the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS) and will be used in Dubai from July 2017. The Ehang 182 can't drive anything. At least not yet.
The admission question.
The biggest challenge for all vehicles, which are to drive and fly, is the approval of the respective authorities. After all, they need the approval of both the road and aviation authorities. "When it comes to the road, we certify according to L5E - these are the approval regulations for tricycles. We meet the requirements set out therein. Therefore, we do not see any hurdles in this area that we will not skip", informs Markus Hess, Chief Marketing Officer of PAL-V. With regard to aviation, the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) is the authoritative authority. "Since we designed our PAL-V according to the existing legislation, we are very confident that we will have completed certification by the end of 2018." Hess continues. The decisive factor for the buyer is that such a vehicle has an EC certificate of conformity. It is then valid in all EU countries. If a vehicle has a valid EC certificate, national authorities may not require any further technical documentation unless modifications have been made to the vehicle after it left the factory. In this case, the authorities may require a new approval procedure. A national certificate of conformity is only valid in the country of issue. Future drivers of a PAL-V will need a pilot's licence for ultra-light aircraft (UL) in addition to their driving licence. Its purchase costs between 6000 and 14000 euros. A significant proportion of this is accounted for by landing fees.
Author: Jörg Zipprick.